TORONTO – These are the games that make you believe in the Toronto Blue Jays, that convince you to trust in their run-differential and expected wins, that persuade you it’s time to push in, despite unfavourable playoff odds. Hyun Jin Ryu cruising. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. mashing. Offence up and down the lineup. All against the American League East leading Boston Red Sox.
A 13-1 romp that secured a four-game split at Fenway Park won’t be the tipping point on how far the front office will go before Friday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. But in spite of the noon-time deal for leverage arm Brad Hand, the playoff yardsticks were moved on them Thursday by the New York Yankees’ additions of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo, the Seattle Mariners picking up Diego Castillo from the Tampa Bay Rays, who liked fellow reliever J.T. Chargois just as much and added a prospect in the process, and the Red Sox grabbing Kyle Schwarber off the Washington Nationals’ racks.
With the Blue Jays now returning home to play their first game at Rogers Centre in 670 days, the response from general manager Ross Atkins and crew will be telling. There’s certainly the need for prudent management to avoid becoming the Chicago Cubs in a few years, tearing down a contender because a farm system stripped by deadline deals was too barren to replenish the big-league roster.
But even with the club’s playoff odds at 26.2 per cent after improving to 6-9 against the Red Sox, according to FanGraphs, opportunities to win are scarce and not giving this group the best opportunity to claim a wild card and see what happens is a waste of a roster objectively better than its 51-48 record.
“From now on every game counts and even more so when you play in your division, the teams ahead of you,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “Again, this team keeps showing that something bad could happen the day before and they forget about it the next day and they're ready to play. That's what we did this series. It was a big win.”
The Yankees, as always, aren’t fooling around and GM Brian Cashman doubled down on a roster with foundational cracks, like the Blue Jays, by parting with his No. 6, 8, 12, 14, 20 and 22 prospects as ranked by Baseball America to get Gallo and Rizzo. Aside from balancing out the lineup with two impact left-handed hitters, the duo also tightens up their new team’s defence, with the Yankees keeping below the competitive balance threshold by getting the Cubs to pick up the tab on Rizzo, allowing them to still add more.
The Rays, who earlier added Nelson Cruz, continued to cleverly position themselves for the present and the future by turning Castillo into Chargois and prospect Austin Shenton, an infielder with a .941 OPS across two minor-league seasons, recently promoted to double-A. The Mariners, who shook their clubhouse earlier this week by flipping closer Kendall Graveman to the Houston Astros for Canadian infielder Abraham Toro in a four-player swap, shored themselves up with Castillo, while the Red Sox added even more thump with Schwarber, picked up for right-hander Aldo Ramirez, a third-tier prospect.
Each of those teams is better and while Hand improves the Blue Jays, without a doubt, he alone doesn’t close the gap, not amid the other moves being made.
More is coming for the Blue Jays, but will it be something bold like prying Jose Berrios or Kenta Maeda from the Minnesota Twins, or Craig Kimbrel and Willson Contreras from the Cubs, or a controllable starter from the Miami Marlins? Or something more middle of the road akin to Hand, who cost the Blue Jays a triple-A catcher with backup potential in Riley Adams, a relatively high price for 20 innings of slightly better than league-average relief.
In what’s been a good market for sellers, that’s a smart, measured buy. The Blue Jays can make a few more like it, think Michael Pineda/Jon Gray, or even up the ante a little for someone like Kyle Gibson, and see if their run differential eventually equals out to more wins.
Their roster might not be ready for the type of derring-do the Los Angeles Dodgers showed in reportedly reaching agreement with Washington for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, blowing through two of their top prospects to make it happen, but there’s probably a lesser reach for more impact to be found.
As always, it takes two, and if teams only want Austin Martin and Gabriel Moreno, this isn’t the time. But a prospect down their top-10 and a couple of dudes set to be caught in the looming 40-man roster crunch shouldn’t disrupt the competitive window’s trajectory too much.
Either way, the moment of truth is coming for the Blue Jays.
“It's something that kind of creeps into your head a little bit, but at the same time you stay focused in the clubhouse you're in and the team that you have,” said Reese McGuire, who had three doubles. “We always kind of joke around with each other, like, hey, I think we're going to make a move for you today. We're just giving each other crap. But it's a fun time to add pieces as well as other players in our organization going to get an opportunity elsewhere. So it's a good thing all around.”
The players on the field, heading to their third home stadium of the season, who blitzed Eduardo Rodriguez for six runs in 3.1 innings – and it could have been more if Hunter Renfroe hadn’t robbed Randal Grichuk of a grand slam in the fourth – who rode six innings of two-hit ball from a resurgent Ryu, and who kept adding on from there, have earned it.
Ryu, pitching despite learning of his grandfather’s passing, had all four of his pitches going and mixed them brilliantly. Not only was he not threatened, he also cleverly erased a couple of errors that threatened to create innings, extending his recent resurgence after some struggles.
"At the beginning of the season, I felt like there were a couple of games there that I felt really good with all my pitches and the command and just how the ball was located and how it's moving and everything, and I showed it again today," Ryu said through interpreter J.S. Park. “As long as I keep up with this and just do what I can do with my pitches, I should be able to do pretty well for the rest of the season.”
The Blue Jays will be counting on that and looking for a lift from being back in Toronto
“We're going to have our own fans,” said Montoyo. “Not that we didn't have fans in Dunedin or in Buffalo, but it's like these are all our fans, not fans from other places. It's going to be awesome. Having a game like this and going into Toronto, it's pretty cool. It's like making a trade. We feel good about it.”
They have a chance to make themselves feel even better before the deadline passes.